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Samara Joy sings jazz standards with style

A smiling Black woman wears a sleeveless floral dress.
courtesy of B Natural Inc.
Vocalist Samara Joy

Recorded while she was still in college, the young vocalist's first album was "more than just an imposing debut," according to jazz critic Kevin Whitehead. "The album Samara Joy is a public service announcement for jazz education."

Born in the Bronx, Samara Joy has musical roots through her paternal grandparents, who were founders of the Philadelphia-based gospel group The Savettes. Another inspiration came from her father, who toured with renowned gospel artist Andraé Crouch.

"Growing up, my home was always filled with music, from the sounds of my father's and grandparents' songs, to many gospel and R&B artists, including Stevie Wonder, George Duke and many, many others," she recalls.

Joy was first introduced to jazz while attending Fordham High School for the Arts, where she performed regularly with the jazz band and eventually won the Best Vocalist award at an Essentially Ellington Competition.

"But jazz was not my true focus until I went to college at SUNY Purchase and was accepted into their acclaimed jazz program, with a faculty that includes many jazz masters — like guitarist Pasquale Grasso and drummer Kenny Washington," Joy explains.

At college, her love of jazz was sparked by her friends.

"They were all really into jazz and would share lots of their recordings with me. But the turning point came when I listened to Sarah Vaughan's version of 'Lover Man.' And then I was hooked," Joy says.

Joy won the 2019 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and was named a 2020 Ella Fitzgerald Scholar by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

Joy has already performed in many of the well-known jazz venues in New York City, including The Blue Note and Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, and she's worked with some of the world's jazz greats, like bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Jon Faddis and pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Later this month, she'll tour Italy with pianist Emmet Cohen.

'Stardust ' - Samara Joy - Whirlwind Sessions

For the future, Joy says she would like to perform on a much larger scale and maybe work in films.

One of her major challenges "is to get people to understand what it (jazz) means. After all, jazz is really Black American music. Jazz is a part of Black history, and it's a part of American history. It's important music. It's great music. And hopefully I can convey that when I perform."

Joy looks forward to sharing her passionate love for jazz as a uniting force and as a catalyst for change in the years to come.

Listen for Samara Joy singing "Moonglow" from her debut album on KNKX Midday and Evening Jazz.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.